Bill Clinton and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez illustrate the core tension of the Democratic Party

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(Image credit: Photo by BRIAN SNYDER / POOL / AFP)

Does America and its economy need a restoration or a revolution?

At the Democratic National Convention, the question is still unsettled — and the resulting tension from that debate was on clear display Tuesday night in the not-quite dueling speeches of former President Bill Clinton and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

Clinton's message was clear: Biden had helped rescue the economy once before — in 2009, as the Great Recession raged, and Biden was ready to do it again. After all, the Obama-Biden recovery produced six straight years of job growth. What's not to like? Vice President Joe Biden's "work created a lot of new jobs and started many new companies in communities across our country," Clinton said. "Now Joe is committed to building America back again."

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If Clinton was jaunty — a "We got this!" twinkle in his eye — Ocasio-Cortez appeared to be in a darker mood. No restoration for her: Cortez is ready to build a new economy on the ashes of the old. America, she said, needs "a movement that realizes the unsustainable brutality of an economy that rewards explosive inequalities of wealth for the few at the expense of long-term stability for the many."

Clinton's generation — now mostly retired — may look at the economy of their prime working years with some nostalgia. But Ocasio-Cortez's generation of young workers, now on their second once-in-a-lifetime recession, probably sees things differently. Studies show that even before the COVID-19 recession, millennials had put off marriage, parenthood, and homebuying — all the things that "adult" Americans supposedly do — because they didn't think they could afford them. The situation, of course, has only gotten worse. They are the "unluckiest generation." The Obama-Biden economy may not represent a triumph to them.

Democratic voters selected Biden as the party's nominee over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), suggesting the "restoration" narrative carried the day for now. But millennials — who are more amenable to socialism than the generations before them — will soon be the elders, both in America and the Democratic Party.

The revolution may be coming sooner than you think.

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